Boston Pops returns to city at the Hanover


WORCESTER —  It was a popular Worcester tradition for nearly three decades. Then, the pop(s) went out of it.

After coming to Worcester for 27 years to perform its annual holiday concert at the DCU Center, the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra didn’t return after 2008. Last year there was an announcement that the orchestra would be back, but it was rather quickly rescinded, with the concert canceled because of poor ticket sales.

But on Dec. 7, it is definite that the Boston Pops will be playing again in Worcester, although at a different venue — The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts.

“I’m glad,” said Keith Lockhart, conductor of the Boston Pops, about the return to Worcester. “We’ve missed you guys.”

It appears to be a case of happy returns and good wishes all around, including at the DCU Center. In fact, Sandy Dunn, general manager of the DCU Center, said she encouraged the longtime promoter of the concert to switch to The Hanover Theatre.

“The Boston Pops successfully played the DCU Center for over 25 years. The audience for this event had decreased over the last several years for a variety of factors, including ticket prices, increased entertainment options in the market, changing demographics and the economy,” Ms. Dunn said. “Based on lower attendance during their last performance at the DCU Center in 2008 and the success they’ve seen in theater environments in neighboring markets, we encouraged the Boston Pops promoter to consider utilizing The Hanover Theatre as a more appropriately sized venue for the event. It’s great that it has been met with strong support.”

Over at The Hanover Theatre, meanwhile, executive director Troy Siebels said, “We’re really happy to have the Boston Pops on our stage this year – we think we’re the perfect kind of venue for them, and it’ll be a big night in Worcester.”

“This time it’s for real,” said David Miller of the return of the Boston Pops. Mr. Miller, president of Kip and Son of Coventry, Conn., has been promoting the orchestra’s Northeast holiday tours since the mid-1970s. He said that the Dec. 7 concert is already almost sold out.

The orchestra’s annual pops concert at the DCU Center — always on a Sunday afternoon in December — had become a Worcester tradition since the building opened in 1982.

“It (Worcester) was such a part of our holiday traveling … We were always in Worcester,” said Mr. Lockhart, who has led the Boston Pops since 1995.

The annual visits included some poignant moments. The orchestra performed here nine days after six Worcester firefighters were killed Dec. 3, 1999 in the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse fire. The orchestra and guest choir Gloriae Dei Cantores of Cape Cod added a memorial piece to the program, Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” and the performance was intently felt by the audience of 12,000 people.

But in 2007, the holiday concert drew about 7,300 people. The following year, largely because of a snowstorm, Worcester Telegram & Gazette reviewer John Zeugner observed a “storm-diminished crowd inside (11 empty tables on the floor, 13 only partially-filled, maybe 3,000 in their seats).”

“Twenty-seven years is a long run,” noted Mr. Miller, who said his own family would have a reunion at the Boston Pops concerts in Worcester.

The economy soured around 2008, and “last year the market just didn’t respond,” he said.

When Mr. Miller first started promoting Boston Pops concerts in the Northeast “all my dates were in arenas,” he said. Now, “more than half are in smaller-sized facilities.”

A smaller venue doesn’t mean that gross receipts and the orchestra’s cut go down, he added.

However, it seems “people are more than willing to pay a higher price to play in a venue that’s more appropriate,” he said. Full ticket prices for the Dec. 7 concert are $55, $75, $95 and $125, depending on seating location.

Asked if he thinks the Boston Pops at The Hanover Theatre will be a new Worcester tradition, Mr. Miller said, “I’m sure it will be.”